We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the Creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore Him whose martyrs they are.
Relics, simply stated, are the physical remains and effects of saints. The word “relic” comes from the Latin relinquo, meaning to leave behind or abandon. We can think of relics as mementos, left behind by holy men and women called saints after their death.
There are three classes of relics: first, second, and third.
A Document of Authentication, typically signed by a bishop, abbot, or religious superior and two witnesses is a means of establishing the authenticity of first- and second-class relics. Third-class relics do not have such documentation; they are venerated through the gift of faith.
While Catholics venerate the saints and the relics of saints, meaning they treat them with honor, dignity, and respect, they worship and adore God alone: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That’s an important and often misunderstood distinction. For Catholics, saints and relics should never be the objects of adoration and worship.
Also misunderstood is Catholic devotion to the saints—holy men and women who lived exemplary lives. “The saints offer us encouragement, like the runner just ahead of us in the race, urging us on,” says well-known author Fr. James Martin, S.J. “The saints are models of what our lives could be.”
In the words of the Catechism: “By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors.” (828)
We can and should look to the saints for support and prayers, just as we might ask anyone—a friend, neighbor, or loved one—for such help. In fact, we believe that the faithful on earth share a special solidarity or spiritual bond with not only the saints in heaven but also the souls in purgatory. Together, we all make up the Church.
All of us are called to holiness. The saints are important because they can be our companions on the journey to holiness; they show us that it can be done—in many different expressions and sometimes quite ordinary callings. Relics, therefore, are important because they remind us in tangible ways that these holy men and women were real.
2 Kings 13:20-21
Elisha died and was buried. At the time, bands of Moabites used to raid the land each year. Once some people were burying a man, when suddenly they spied such a raiding band. So they cast the dead man into the grave of Elisha, and everyone went off. But when the man came in contact with the bones of Elisha, he came back to life and rose to his feet.
Just then, a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, "If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed." Jesus turned and saw her. "Take heart, daughter," he said, "your faith has healed you." And the woman was healed from that moment.
So extraordinary were the mighty deeds God accomplished at the hands of Paul that when face cloths or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
You are no longer aliens or foreign visitors; you are citizens like all the saints, and part of God's household. You are part of a building that has the apostles and prophets for its foundations, and Christ, Jesus himself for its main cornerstone. As every structure is aligned on him, all grow into one holy temple in the Lord; and you too, in him, are being built into a house where God lives, in the Spirit.